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The Sombra Agroforestry Project

Sombra – meaning ‘shade’ in Portuguese - is a ground-breaking agroforestry project in Brazil between Assembly, our sister brand Volcano Coffee Works, our green coffee partner - Mió, and the Federal Institude of Espírito Santo

Brazilian coffee - context

Brazil accounts for over 40% of the global arabica coffee volume. Such a significant portion of the world crop means that Brazil’s crop each year defines the global market.

Catastrophic frosts in the last 50 years have destroyed roughly half of Brazil's coffee trees, leaving Brazil's wildlife and the world's coffee industry vulnerable.

And by 2030, the country could lose 11 million hectares of agricultural land due to climate change.


The Sombra agroforestry project aims to showcase how Brazil's ubiquitous monocrop, full-sun farming system - proven to decimate wildlife, degrade soil diversity and provide coffee plants with no protection from extreme weather events - can be reconfigured to harness the power of agroforestry.

Over five years, we're funding the reforesting of 60,000 coffee trees and non-coffee trees across a 15 hectare plot of Mió's land.

In doing so, we'll create sustainable and integrated management of different plant species to protect the area from extreme weather conditions, recover soil health and native species diversity, and improve yield from the area at harvest.

The selection of the trees to be used was driven by two considerations:

  • Priority was given to trees native to the Atlantic Forest - a highly bio-diverse forest that extends along the entire Atlantic coast of Brazil
  • Trees with differing growth rates were needed to understand which gave the best protection to coffee plants at different stages of the research.

Reviewing the list of potential species, it was decided that the mix would be cedar, macadamia and guapuruvu.

Why cedar, macadamia and guapuruvu?


Macadamia nuts require post-harvest processing methods very similar to coffee. This means the same conditions and equipment can be used for both.

And, with macadamia also an annual crop, a producer could generate a continuous stream of income by harvesting coffee for one half of the year and macadamia for the other half.

Growth rate: slow


To maintain their health, coffee trees need stumping around 12 years after planting. Typically, a year in which a coffee producer stumps their plants means a dramatic reduction in the volume of coffee harvested and subsequent loss of income.

The average life cycle of a cedar tree is 12 years. Therefore, planting cedars at the same time as coffee trees means that any income lost by stumping can be regained by selling mature cedars as wood.

Growth rate: medium


The guapuruvu tree is a fast-growing species, perfect for chipping. Mature in just one year, wood chips from these trees are being used to nourish the soil all over the Sombra area.

Growth rate: fast

Sombra project timeline

Year 1 - 2023

  1. Reforest all land which surrounds Mió's natural water sources, including creeks, rivers, natural reservoirs, rivers. This is critical for establishing and protecting clean water systems
  2. Plant all non-coffee trees on a systematic grid laid out by species, with spacing to allow for mechanised picking, drone-delivered fertiliser and canopy stratification (layering).

Year 2 - 2024

  1. Plant all coffee trees once 12-month growth on non-coffee trees is achieved
  2. Reforest all remaining land that surrounds coffee plants to complete a contiguous forest system.

Year 3 - 2025

  1. First harvest of the coffee plants
  2. Research into the coffee crop produced - how to manage and scale harvest; relationships between coffee trees and non-coffee trees - how root systems impact yield and quality of crop
  3. Sensory analysis of the variants of coffee tree species
  4. Nuts and fruits from other trees incorporated into the project.

Year 4 - 2026

  1. Continuation of research during annual harvest cycle
  2. Publish formal data sets and findings from the project
  3. Create a farming practice template with commercial models to accredit the project as a legitimately recognised carbon-negative practice.

Year 5 - 2027

  1. Implement Sombra methodology across the entirety of the remaining coffee production areas at Mió.